Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

James Warner
James Warner


Saturday memorial service planned
for retired engineering professor Warner

December 14, 2009

by Joe King

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, for James C. Warner, a longtime member of the faculty in the Department of Industry and Technology who became a pioneer in the field of computer automated manufacturing.

Warner died peacefully Wednesday, Nov. 18, at his DeKalb home. He was 78.

Warner joined the faculty of the Department of Industry and Technology in 1962 and, within a few years, took an interest in an emerging technology known as “numerical control” – the use of computers to control machine tools.

He was one of the first academics to explore the field that transformed the way manufacturing is done across the globe and to incorporate the technology into his teaching of machine tool technology.

As a result of his efforts and his teaching ability, NIU was quickly recognized as the nation’s leader in teaching that skill.

“He was the pioneer in numerical control of machines,” said Dennis Stoia, a retired professor who was hired by Warner. “People who wanted to teach classes in that area, or wanted to create programs, would come to meet him.” 

Many of Warner’s students went on to careers in the aerospace industry. At one point, Stoia said, defense contractors had a “standing order” for Warner’s students and guaranteed jobs to his graduates.

Warner himself was also in demand by industry. He was recruited to personally take over the research and development of computer software used to define and develop complex machinery used in gas turbines and jet engines.

He continued to build the program throughout the 1970s, adding classes in software programming that became the foundation for a formal numerical control curriculum within the Department of Industry and Technology. He also secured state-of-the-art machining tools to give his students hands-on experience and traveled the world lecturing on the topic.

“He was a big believer in hands-on teaching. He made them write the programs, made them enter it into machines and made them actually create parts,” Stoia said. “One reason his students were so in demand was that they were ready to go to work the day they graduated.”

Those students also were well-drilled in the discipline of the field, Stoia said: Even though Warner’s program drew the brightest of students, he would tell them that half could expect to fail the initial class, and he would prove to be a man of his word. Most recovered and went on to graduate.

“He was an outstanding, but tough teacher,” said Darrell Newell, a retired electrical engineering professor. “He made you work. You learned or you got out.”

Those demanding ways didn’t diminish his popularity with students. About a decade ago, dozens came back to DeKalb from all over the country to hold a dinner in his honor, Stoia said. Many of those in attendance had gone on to be leaders at some of the largest high-tech manufacturers in the country.

Warner became chairman of the Department of Industry and Technology in 1980, a post he held until his retirement in 1989.

In addition to his work, Warner enjoyed traveling with his wife, Jean, and their two daughters Pamela and Dawn. He was also an avid hunter and fisherman. After retirement he devoted much of his time to carpentry (doing extensive remodeling of his home) and making toys and furniture for his daughters and grandchildren.

Saturday’s Celebration of Life will be held at Anderson Funeral Home, 2011 S. Fourth St., in DeKalb. Visitation begins at 9:30 a.m. Cremation has taken place at the Anderson Funeral Home Crematory. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the James C. Warner Memorial Fund to benefit a scholarship being established in his name at NIU. Donations are accepted in care of Anderson Funeral Home, P.O. Box 605, DeKalb, IL, 60115, or at (815) 756-1022.